How has 2017 fared?

 7 December 2017

Apprenticeship Service Director, Sara Whybrew takes a look back at 2017: a very interesting year for the world of skills.

"The development of new apprenticeship routes has actually never been easier."

What a year 2017 has been.

The start of the Apprenticeship Levy and associated reforms brought about new opportunities as well as challenges. 

Initial work on the new T-Levels has ignited a combination of excitement and trepidation, and the Government’s proposed Industrial Strategy tells of our need for greater emphasis on skills development and lifelong learning. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a strong sense of déjà vu, anyone remember the Leitch review of skills?

What do the latest reports tell us? 

UK Theatre’s vital workforce report came along and shared some very interesting findings indeed. 

We know they, along with us, were sad to note that we still aren’t doing enough to futureproof our workforce. 

It is rare that the world of skills should ever relate to that of Classical Greek, but I can’t help feel like Cassandra in this instance: cursed by always speaking the truth but never being believed.

In 2010 we predicted that there would be a shortage of theatre technicians by 2017.  We’d love to feel smug about our accurate prophecy here, but frankly we don’t. 

In England the introduction of the apprenticeship reforms has, in my view, opened up a whole new world of opportunity 

It breaks our heart, as does the news reported by the Museums Association that Museums pay 7% below the market rate. 

I’d consider this a high price to pay by a museum workforce that helps protect and celebrate some of our most important cultural assets and visitor attractions.

When we read that the number of unpaid internships in the theatre sector had actually ‘increased’, we assumed this was a typo. We were wrong.

If you’re one of the ‘good ones’ that works to break down the elitist recruitment practices we operate, then our door is open and we embrace the foresight you bring.

If you’re not, then we ask you, beg you, to reconsider your approaches to recruitment and workforce development. This is cultivating a homogenised workforce within a society that is anything but.

It was reported this year that the average debt for a graduate has now reached £51,000. 

Graduates will be pleased to hear we still continue to employ more of them, on average, than any other employment sector (almost twice as many), but they’ll be disappointed to hear we just don’t have jobs for all of them. 

Yet the skilled and technical jobs we have are not being filled and our sector is suffering as a result.

Creative Employment Programme findings

Although our Future Skills Needs Assessment that’s currently underway won’t be available for public consumption until the new year, I can share with you it reflects a ‘could do better’ position.

Whilst no one wants this on their school report, I’d like to offer a seasonal glimmer of hope.

Apprenticeships train new entrants to the sector, helping employers mould their workforce so it is entirely responsive to need

Namely the success of the Creative Employment Programme highlighted in the evaluation that was finalised in May. 

From this we learned how hard it can be for young people seeking employment in our sector, but how the opportunities that over 1200 fantastic employers and partners created through this programme genuinely helped to change lives.

Here are some headlines:

  • 75% of the young people who undertook an apprenticeship or paid internship through the programme would not have been able to take up this opportunity if it had been unpaid
  • Those who undertook an apprenticeship or internship through the programme reported that they had applied unsuccessfully for over 27 jobs (on average) in the 12 months prior to their involvement in the CEP
  • 85% stated that the CEP gave them access to opportunities that they would have previously considered unavailable to them
  • Over 75% participants have secured paid employment following the CEP
  • 80% of Creative Skills Initiative (pre-employment training) participants believed this provided access to a previously unavailable training opportunity in the arts and cultural sector
  • The life satisfaction of participants significantly increased as did their confidence, ability to make positive decisions, and their understanding of the real skills needed to work in the sector
  • A third of employers who engaged with the programme reported an average increase in turnover of circa 12% as a direct result of their CEP participant(s)
  • Employers recognised a  level of aptitude in technology and social media skills held by young people that the organisation previously lacked

Whilst these findings show us the valuable impact that apprenticeships and paid internship opportunities can have on young people, they also show that there’s still a lot of work to do with employers. 

Most reported that employing young people was a positive experience for them and their business, and over half would now employ an apprentice where they wouldn’t have done so before. But the evidence sadly showed that some of these employers still consider it acceptable to create unpaid work opportunities.

And they’re unlikely to alter their recruitment practices going forward.

I need not remind the sector of Tea House Theatre’s unusual attempt to reach out to ‘millenials’ to fill their position of office administrator.

Recruitment and training in our sector

Our recruitment cultures in the sector are disappointing.

Not least because they are closing off entry points to a wide range of talent, but also because these practices are putting businesses at risk.

Contravening National Minimum Wage regulations brings with it potentially hefty financial penalties, and, indirectly, so does failing to invest in skills development and diversity. 

Graduates will be pleased to hear we still continue to employ more of them, on average, than any other employment sector

Peter Bazalgette’s review of the creative industries tells of how we’re not reaching our true productivity potential.

The development of skills is a key driver to help address this.

In England the introduction of the apprenticeship reforms has, in my view, opened up a whole new world of opportunity. 

It may not feel like it to those who have engaged in the trailblazer process, but the development of new apprenticeship routes has actually never been easier. 

Our old creative apprenticeship frameworks are being phased out by the Government in England, and I for one am pleased. 

Not because the frameworks are bad or unhelpful, but because the new system has created the flexibility to develop apprenticeship standards for a much wider range of occupations.

Including those that have only ever been accessible via graduate routes in the past. 

The future for apprenticeships

I, along with my colleagues, have had the pleasure of working with many employers this year, both levy and non-levy paying.

They have embraced the apprenticeship reforms and started to consider the opportunities that the apprenticeship route can bring. 

Not only can apprenticeships train new entrants to the sector, helping employers mould their workforce so it is entirely responsive to need. They can also use apprenticeships to upskill existing staff through a wide variety of higher apprenticeships. And it doesn’t end there.

I recently met with Dancers Career Development, who support dancers to progress into alternative employment when their dancing careers end (most dancers ‘retire’ by the age of 30).

We’d describe these as ‘career changers’.

How great it would be if apprenticeships were used to train ex-dancers for a new career in the sector. 

Just think, they’d already come with a range of transferable skills: tenacity, team work, ability to meet tight deadlines etc.

But an apprenticeship could help them develop occupationally specific knowledge and skills to set them on a new course.

We know apprenticeships work and they make our sector a viable option for a much wider demographic.

They also train individuals for the jobs we actually need people to do, aid the journey towards an individual’s financial independence, increase productivity in businesses, and teach the existing workforce about some of the things we could be better at.

Creative & Cultural Skills has been banging on the apprenticeship drum for almost ten years now, which might feel like a long time to hear the same noise. 

We offer no apology for this. In fact, we’ll happily make the same racket for as long as it takes.

Until we have an openly accessed, diverse, skilled and productive workforce that futureproofs the continued brilliance of the creative and cultural industries.

If you haven’t already done so, we hope you’ll join us in 2018 and beyond to help make this possible.


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